One of my clients once asked me “Karl, can you ever make a point without telling a story”?
Nope…or I sure try not to. Why? Three things come to mind…
The Native American proverb that states: “Those who tell stories rule the world”
Plato’s comment of “Those who tell the stories rule society”
And from a great mentor of mine, Roddy Gailbraith of the John Maxwell Team: “Never make a point without a story and never tell a story without a point”
I assure you, that with #1 and #2 above, that I have no intention to rule anything. However, since leadership is all about influence, I certainly do want to influence you in the direction of highly effective leadership.
Here’s the story….
I was raised by two very inquisitive and teaching parents and we were blessed to live near the Sierrra Nevada in California. We had a cabin on the Carson Pass highway. Many a summer day during my childhood was spent hiking near the cabin. Along the Carson Pass were rust-marked ruts made by wagon wheels, made over a century before, from covered wagons being pulled by oxen over granite inclines that would have discouraged the best of people.
That was my first introduction to pioneers, defined here as “one who goes before, showing others the way to follow”.
Just after moving to Oregon in 1990, the state celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Oregon Trail. As we went to see the historical sites that were celebrated, I marveled at the tenacity of the men, women, and children who tolerated, and then dominated, incredible odds.
The incredible legacy of Lewis and Clark, so well described in the classic work, Undaunted Courage, by the late author Steven Ambrose, is yet another example of, as the title implies, complete tenacity in the face of staggering challenges.
And the Mormon pioneers, with covered wagons and handcarts, moving across 1,300 miles of trail to come into the Salt Lake Valley, then an inhospitable desert, and from there to establish settlements through much of the west.
I love to backpack and have spent more than my share of nights wet, cold and somewhat miserable. However, I always knew that within hours, or certainly days, I would be dry, warm, and not miserable.
Not the case with these pioneers. Day after day, week after week, persisting through horrendous conditions, to establish a better life for themselves and their families.
It would be unethical of me not to state that many of these pioneering efforts came at the expense of people whose lands were taken and were displaced by this expansion. That is undeniable and tragic. And that is a discussion for another day, to learn from the past and assure, as good leaders, that such acts of disregard for people and race are not repeated under our watch in our times… and to not erase the past to the extent we cannot learn positive, and negative, lessons from it… for those also exist.
And pioneers are not only those that walked by handcarts and huddled by fires. They are those that, recently freed from generations of slavery, forged lives amidst incredible opposition that blessed multiple subsequent generations. They are those, although their lands were taken and their societies displaced, continued to move their culture and traditions forward, again, against formidable opposition.
Sadly, that opposition continues in many venues, and so do the examples of pioneering tenacity to overcome it.
As leaders we can and must lead and join that pioneering effort in this regard.
Throughout these stories from pioneer history, past and present, there are so many examples of strong men and women who led from the front. Who got up early to start the fires. Who shared their limited rations. Who went ahead of the party to make sure that the route was passable. Who encouraged, cajoled, pushed, and prodded. Those who, wearied by multiple injustices, still get up and head out the door because they know others depend on them.
Just a question for the weekend. How are you on the pioneering part of your leadership? Would your people say of you “she/he is one who goes before, showing others the way to follow?
Some other questions might be
…Am I up early, making the fire?
…Do I share my rations? Remember, “Leaders Eat Last”?
…Do I make sure the route is passable?
…Do I encourage and sometimes, appropriately, push and prod?
…Do I show courage by, sometimes, just heading out the door?
Just some thoughts….